'Amazing': Service dog helps 11-year-old girl with rare disorder walk

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Bella and George/Burton Family Photo

Bella and George/Burton Family Photo

Today Show: When Bella met George, something wonderful happened. Not long ago, the 11-year-old with a rare disorder was clinging to crutches, but now she’s walking with the help of the Great Dane, a 2-year-old service dog who has become her best friend and constant companion.
She’s made so much progress, the family was recently astonished to see her dash and frolic in the grass as her big furry protector looked on. “I don’t remember the last time I watched my child run through the yard,” Rachel Burton, Bella’s mom, told TODAY. “Seeing her just run was amazing to us.”
The Burtons, who live in Woburn, Massachusetts, will travel to Orlando, Florida, next month where George will be honored by the American Kennel Club for his impact on the family.
It’s been a long road for Bella and her loved ones.
When the girl was 2, her parents noticed she wasn’t keeping up on her growth curve. The problem stumped her doctor, who suggested genetic testing to find out what was wrong. The tests revealed she had Morquio syndrome, a progressive disorder in which the body doesn’t produce enough of a key enzyme. That leads to a buildup of sugar molecules, which can cause problems with bone development and growth.
It’s estimated the syndrome occurs in only 1 of every 200,000 births.
In her young life so far, Bella has had nine major surgeries, including reconstruction of her hips and feet. She’s also had problems with mobility, getting around on crutches but using them more to swing her legs rather than walking on them. Her parents worried she was losing muscle strength in her lower body, relying on her upper body instead to move.
That all changed when she met George.
The Burtons weren’t looking for a service animal, but about two years ago, they heard about the Service Dog Project in Ipswich, Massachusetts, which trains and donates Great Danes for people with balance and mobility issues. With its impressive height and heft, a good temperament and easygoing lifestyle, the breed is perfect for the job, the non-profit explains.
Burton Family Photo

Burton Family Photo

Most dogs are paired with adults, but when the family began visiting, it was clear the girl was ready for a canine companion. “Once we saw Bella being around those dogs, how she was always in such a great mood and she loved going there, we thought, ‘What are we waiting for?'” Burton recalled. “When she was visiting George and he didn’t want her to leave his kennel, they were like, let’s try them.”
The Burtons brought him home just for the weekend over several weeks at first, then permanently added George to the family in January. They’re grateful the fully trained animal was donated by the Service Dog Project.
Bella weighs 44 pounds and stands 43 inches tall. Soon, she put away the crutches and began to walk, with the help of her furry 131-pound friend. With her height, the dog’s back is right by her armpit, providing lots of stability. “She leans on him for support like she would if she used one crutch. But it’s much more exciting when it’s a dog than a crutch,” Burton said.
George now goes everywhere Bella goes. He spends the day with her at school, where he walks her from class to class and patiently lies in a bed right next to her desk. He doesn’t bark or demand to go outside, Burton said. The other kids are used to his presence and know they can’t pet him because he’s there to work.
George is also a comfort during Bella’s medical appointments, including a weekly six-hour infusion of a medicine that gives her more energy. “At first, he did not like it when she would get her IV put in. He would want to get up and protect her. But then he realized it had to be done,” Burton said.
Burton Family Photo

Burton Family Photo

At night, he climbs into bed with the little girl, often sleeping beside her.
Bella’s prognosis is hard to predict, her mom said. Some people with Morquio syndrome have lived to 20, others are in their 40s and still fine. Bella continues to see specialists who monitor her for issues related to the disorder.
Each time, George is there. “He’s totally a member of the family now,” Burton said.
Just part of the family now!/Burton Family Photo

Just part of the family now!/Burton Family Photo


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0 responses to “'Amazing': Service dog helps 11-year-old girl with rare disorder walk

  1. There so many stories of dogs helping sick, wounded, withdrawn, lost people, including programs for prison convicts to care for dogs, and so learn responsibility. This all goes back to that prehistoric time when some wild wolves decided to become domesticated by men in return for food and shelter. Dogs have been returning many folds the favor, ever since.

  2. That is the best story! Thank you so much for posting! Can’t imagine what joy Bella and her family must be feeling. Also, it goes to show, there is always hope–and how nice that they get a great pet thrown into the deal!

  3. that is a good dog. treats on the way I hope!!

  4. I first saw the video of this amazing pair last week and it brought tears. Bless them both.
    You can never underestimate the connection dogs have with humans and their need to be of assistance.

  5. DCG . . . What a wonderful, joyous article. Thank you. I love animals, what would we do if we did not have them in our lives.

  6. Glad to see this fine example of a service dog as the ultimate helper and companion for a challenged person.


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